A First-Rate First Aid Kit
As a long-time boater and medical professional, I have found first aid kits sold at marine supply stores to be lacking. Therefore, I stock my floating first aid kit to match the realities of a day spent offshore.
The kit itself should be waterproof, able to float, and a solid color (never opt for clear, as medications and ointments may be light sensitive). Label the kit boldly and store it in a dry, accessible spot.
As the bulk of boating injuries are scrapes, cuts, bruises, and burns, a stocked kit requires multiple sizes of adhesive bandages, large sterile gauze pads, an ABD pad, and elastic gauze. Purchase plastic or nylon-backed adhesive tape in one-half and one-inch sizes. Include ace bandages in one, three, and six-inch widths. Besides being excellent for coverage of severe bandaged wounds, I find them helpful for holding cold packs in place and for splinting.
Stock up on sterile saline solution for cleansing wounds and topical disinfectants such as peroxide and an antiseptic such as betadine. Keep aboard the same topical ointments for burns, sunburns, and cuts you rely on at home, or ask a pharmacist for recommendations. Basics include cortisone and lidocaine creams to decrease inflammation and lessen pain. Some boaters carry a supply of antibiotic ointments for wound infections; many taking extended cruises carry suture material and local anesthetic for closing severe wounds. For recreational boaters on day trips, the best approach is to attend to the wound while getting help from the U.S. Coast Guard or returning to shore and heading to a medical facility.
Have a variety of pain and inflammation relievers aboard. As a good kit will help ease a range of passengers’ discomforts, tuck in antacids, antidiarrheals, antihistamines, and hygiene supplies. I include motion sickness preparations, but tell my passengers prone to seasickness to take a medication or apply a doctor-recommended patch before boarding for maximum effectiveness.
Stock your kit with a supply of the prescription medications you and your regular boating companions require (speak to your doctor about how often you boat and explain how delays may happen when returning to shore — some doctors will prescribe extra medications as a failsafe).
Other items to include in your kit: non-latex gloves, face mask, bandage scissors, tweezers, eyedropper, eyecup, and cold and hot packs.
Check expiration dates on all items you keep aboard — some lose their effectiveness after a time (perhaps accelerated by being on a boat) and some may cause adverse reactions. Dispose of medications properly; never flush them.
Review your first aid kit’s contents periodically and make changes accordingly. For example, having children aboard would influence what you stock as well as the package enclosures.
Some people are adverse to medications or want to try other approaches first, so also add items such as vinegar or cola for sting relief, a meat tenderizer containing papain for bug bites, aloe vera gel for burns, black pepper to stop minor bleeding, arnica for muscle aches, anti-nausea acupressure wrist bands, and ginger root capsules or drops for seasickness.
While it may seem that the items I’ve listed are costly, there’s no real price tag for peace of mind. I look at a first aid kit as being similar to a fire extinguisher — you hope you never have to use it but don’t want to regret skimping if the need arises. To reduce costs, I buy first aid products for home use in larger sizes and use this stock to replenish my boat.
Have an easy-to-read first aid guide aboard. Why take the time to try and search online (if you even have cell service offshore) when you can flip to an index and turn to a page in less time?
Always show your passengers where the first aid kit is located — a kit can’t be effective unless it’s handy. First aid by laypersons is never a substitute for proper medical attention; once back on shore, injured or ailing boaters should consult with a doctor or head to an emergency room.
By Paul Knieste
Tips to avoid/cope with seasickness
I tell my passengers that the morning before going out with me they should avoid a breakfast that’s heavy on fat and protein. Once we’re underway, I tell them to eat light and avoid alcohol. Instead, they should sip carbonated beverages, especially ginger ale. When they can’t tolerate anything else, eating bland crackers is helpful, and chewing mint-flavored gum can also alleviate discomfort.